Later this week, U.S. President Joe Biden intends to ask Congress for “an unprecedented support package for Israel’s defense,” he said today at the David Kempinski Hotel in Tel Aviv. “The world will know that Israel is stronger than ever, and my message to any state or any other hostile actor thinking about attacking Israel remains the same as it was a week ago: Don’t. Don’t. Don’t.”
Moments later, Biden announced “$100 million in new U.S. funding for humanitarian assistance in both Gaza and the West Bank.” The monies will “support more than 1 million displaced and conflict-affected Palestinians, including emergency needs in Gaza,” the president said.
The announcement came less than two days after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged, in remarks he delivered in Tel Aviv, that there are concerns about aid packages reaching civilians who need it.
“We share Israel’s concern that Hamas may seize or destroy aid entering Gaza or otherwise preventing it from reaching the people who need it,” Blinken said on Oct. 16.
“If Hamas in any way blocks humanitarian assistance from reaching civilians, including by seizing the aid itself, we’ll be the first to condemn it, and we will work to prevent it from happening again,” he said.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is running for president, attacked the president’s announcement. “They say it’s humanitarian assistance. We know Hamas is going to commandeer that money, and Hamas is going to use it to advance terrorism,” DeSantis stated.
“I say no U.S. tax dollars to the Gaza Strip. We still have hostages being held by Hamas. There are American hostages being held by Hamas. How are you funding them when they’re holding Americans, as well as others, hostage?” DeSantis added.
Biden did not say how, if at all, Washington would ensure that the $100 million would get to those in need.
Per the White House, Washington is working “through trusted partners including U.N. agencies and international NGOs.” It, too, did not say how it would guarantee that the aid reaches its intended recipients.
Also on Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that Israel “will not prevent humanitarian assistance from Egypt, as long as it is only food, water and medicine for the civilian population located in the southern Gaza Strip or which is evacuating to there, and as long as these supplies do not reach Hamas.”
“Any supplies that reach Hamas will be prevented,” he said.
Jerusalem won’t allow any assistance to Gaza from Israel, “as our captives are not returned,” the prime minister added. “Israel demands Red Cross visits with our captives and is working to mobilize broad international support for this demand.”
UNRWA supplies stolen
Earlier in the week, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) posted—and then deleted—a series of messages on social media, where it noted that it “received reports” that “a group of people with trucks purporting to be from the Ministry of Health of the de facto authorities in Gaza removed fuel and medical equipment from the agency’s compound in Gaza City.”
Hamas currently controls the Gazan Ministry of Health, and an official Israeli Foreign Ministry social-media account stated that “even UNRWA is now saying that Hamas terrorists in Gaza are stealing emergency supplies and gas which are needed to help Gazan civilians.”
“Or in other words,” wrote Israel Katz, the Israeli energy and infrastructure minister, “Hamas is robbing the ‘humanitarian aid’ to the Palestinian people. There’s no reason to give them anything until we eliminate Nazi Hamas.”
Hold on $75 million in funds
On Oct. 3—four days before Hamas attacked Israel, killing more than 1,400, wounding 4,500 others and taking some 150 hostages, including American citizens—Blinken approved a $75 million aid package to UNRWA. Republicans had blocked the payment.
“Thank you, Secretary Blinken, for providing $75 million in food assistance to Palestine refugees in Gaza,” wrote an official UNRWA account. “This generous support from the American people will allow UNRWA to continue this critical aspect of its humanitarian and human development work through the end of Q1 2024!”
On Sept. 11, U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller was asked in a State Department press briefing about the UNRWA funding.
“It seems that $75 million are still being held up in food assistance to the Palestinians, especially in Gaza. I guess it’s awaiting maybe the end of the fiscal year and so on, and I wonder if you could comment on this because the situation, as you’ve probably been following up, with UNRWA and with the distribution of food and the assistance of food in Gaza, cannot wait till the end of the fiscal year or the beginning of the new one,” said Said Arikat, Washington bureau chief for Al-Quds.
“I would say that we agree that funding for UNRWA supports the provision of food, health care, education, relief and social services, which are more vital than ever with the worsening violence in the West Bank and Gaza,” Miller responded to the ostensible question. (Arikate frequently attacks Israel in his “questions” at State Department press briefings.)
“We are committed to working with the UN and our international partners to provide rapid humanitarian assistance and to marshal international support for recovery efforts in a manner that benefits the Palestinian people,” Miller added. “So we would agree that this funding is important and are trying to move it through.”
Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) had put a hold on the funds, citing UNRWA’s “long history of employing people connected to terrorist movements like Hamas, promoting antisemitic textbooks and using its schools to store Hamas weapons.”
In 2021, following the Biden administration’s resumption of aid to UNRWA, Risch led a group of 20 Republican senators in sending a letter to the president urging him to hold funds until verifying that the U.N. agency does not employ Hamas members nor continue to use antisemitic textbooks.